"Fit in or F#$@ off": the (non) disclosure of sexual harassment in rural workplaces

Skye Saunders, Patricia Lynn Easteal

Abstract


In this paper we consider the complexities associated with the internal workplace disclosure of sexual harassment for rural employees. We acknowledge the existence of certain accompanying ‘special issues’ for rural women and predict that these elements (such as the traditionally conservative bush attitudes about violence against women, the added cultural dimensions of small-town gossip and self-reliance and the impact of isolation) would have some impact on the inclination of rural women to report workplace sexual harassment. To test that hypothesis, a sample of female employees and a sample of employers from different areas considered as ‘rural’ were interviewed. In defining ‘rural’ for this purpose we adopted a social constructionist approach. We report on participants’ experiences and attitudes about making an internal sexual harassment complaint. We discuss the barriers to disclosure that respondents perceive. We identify the types of rural workplaces (occupation, rurality, gender ratios) which tend to utilise sexual harassment policies and offer training, and we consider the impact of these on the likelihood of reporting. We also investigate whether other variables, such as the type of harassment experienced, employees’ attitude about what constitutes sexual harassment and reporting, age, seniority and/or education affect reporting. We conclude that disclosure practices could be improved by the implementation of visiting sexual harassment consultants/officers who would visit rural communities to educate, hear complaints, help with the development of policies, provide advice referral to counseling mediation and provide follow up.

Keywords


sexual harassment; rural social justice; rural employees

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